Movie Diary 11/29/2022

She Said (Maria Schrader, 2022). If you’re going to make a serviceable, conventional account of the New York Times investigation into Harvey Weinstein’s ugly world, it helps if you have great actors filling out the parts, from Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan in the lead roles to Jennifer Ehle and Samantha Morton in five-minute knockout parts to reliables like Andre Braugher, Zach Grenier, and Patricia Clarkson doing their things. This movie has them.

Barbarian (Zach Cregger, 2022). I would like to jump on the bandwagon that applauds this twisty horror picture, and there is much to like about it, including just about everything that involves Justin Long’s character, a Hollywood actor-bro whose world abruptly implodes thanks to his own abusive behavior. (And, as it turns out, his overly hands-off approach to a rental property he owns in Detroit.) I think the movie takes too long to get to his thread, as we dawdle at the Detroit house, where a woman (Georgina Campbell) checks into her Airbnb place only to discover a nervous man (Bill Skarsgard) already there. Don’t get me wrong, it’s effective, although maybe not quite as clever as it thinks it is.

Movie Diary 11/26/2022

Tar (Todd Field, 2022). An ambitious and measured film about a celebrated conductor whose life is already in various stages of unraveling as the movie begins. Have to sit with this one a while, but it’s a luxurious pleasure to watch, and it will probably come as no surprise that Cate Blanchett is huge in the central role – although the role is a tricky one, and requires Blanchett to be inauthentic in her presentation of a complicated character. One thing to love about it: It requires that you actually know how to watch a movie, to be alert, to think critically.

Men (Alex Garland, 2022). A wigged-out number from the director of Ex Machina, with Jessie Buckley in good form, as expected. Have to sit with this one for a while, too. At the very least, Rory Kinnear deserves some Supporting Actor attention for a turn that is even more effective if you don’t know anything about it beforehand.

Catherine Called Birdy (Lena Dunham, 2022). A regularly funny coming-of-age story from the Middle Ages, part spunky YA novel, party Monty Python. There should be more oddball movies like this.

Funny Pages (Owen Kline, 2022). A regularly funny coming-of-age story from New Jersey, part Repo Man, part Safdie brothers. The kooky 70s vibe seems like a dead end, but one has to admire the commitment to its peculiar tone and grody milieu.

The Friday 11/25/2022

Gabriel LaBelle: The Fabelmans (Universal)

My piece for the Scarecrow blog this week, and etc.

The Fabelmans. “I have to confess that much of it felt softer, less dynamic than the director’s propulsive genre exercises. But I can easily believe the film might look better on a second viewing, especially if I’m less distracted by the fairly frequent “Did this really happen to Spielberg?” thought-bubbles that popped above my head as I watched.”

Saturday 11/26 we have another session in Scarecrow Academy’s free online series “The Art in Sci-Fi: Science Fiction and the Director,” a Zoom discussion led by yours truly. The film in question is Alex Garland’s 2014 title Ex Machina; we convene at 2 pm Pacific Time. For more info and how to register, see here.

Movie Diary 11/22/2022

The Fabelmans (Steven Spielberg, 2022). Autobiographical scrapbook, which I hope to write about this week.

Don’t Worry Darling (Olivia Wilde, 2022). Florence Pugh is tremendous and there are scenes that absolutely click, yet the movie is disorganized and obvious. It also takes far too long to get where it’s going, wherever that is, and at a certain moment begins to feel like a series of screenwriter fixes. I like Chris Pine as the calm tech-cult leader, and don’t get much of a vibe from Harry Styles, who was perfectly fine in My Policeman but doesn’t evince a whole bunch of interior life here – although I suppose you could argue that a lack of interior life is acceptable in this circumstance.

Movie Diary 11/20/2022

My Policeman (Michael Grandage, 2022). Tripping back to the late 1950s, when the illegal attraction between a Brighton policeman (Harry Styles) and a museum curator (David Dawson) prompts the cop to cultivate a marriage of convenience with a schoolteacher (Emma Corrin). Fairly one-note throughout, with the actors sticking to a style of dull sincerity, and the past looking perhaps a little too nostalgically pretty for the purpose at hand. The characters are seen decades later, too (with some confusion, at least on my part, on when the “present day” is supposed to be), with Rupert Everett, Linus Roache, and Gina McKee filling out the roles, all of whom deserve better, or at least more to do. Grandage directed Genius, the dismal account of the literary relationship between Max Perkins and Thomas Wolfe.

Miracle Mile (Steve De Jarnatt, 1988). A gratifying re-watch for the purposes of Scarecrow Academy, our ongoing online discussion series. Speaking of which, we’re talking about Alex Garland’s Ex Machina this Saturday; check out the registration info here.

Metronom (Alexandru Belc, 2022). A superbly rendered blend of coming-of-age story with the violent realities of being a teenager in Ceausescu’s Romania circa 1972. I’m moderating an online interview with the director and lead actress Mara Bugarin tomorrow morning for the Seattle Romanian Film Festival.

The Friday 11/18/2022

Bruno Ganz: The American Friend

My piece for the Scarecrow blog this week, and etc.

Loving Highsmith. “It’s not a definitive documentary, but it is more insightful, I think, than many such docu-portraits.”

We continue our free online semester of Scarecrow Academy tomorrow (11/19) at 2 pm Pacific Time, with more “Science Fiction and the Director.” Join our Zoom conversation for some talk about M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs – and yes, I will be going to bat for this sometimes maligned filmmaker. Check the registration form here.

It’s a repeat episode of “The Music and the Movies” this week: Marlon Brando music. Come for A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront, stay for One-Eyed Jacks. Listen via the Voice of Vashon website.

Movie Diary 11/15/2022

Vagabond (Agnes Varda, 1985). Another for this quarter’s teaching. A more remarkable film each time I watch it: exhibiting a neo-realist, quasi-documentary surface (Varda even narrates a little in the first-person at the beginning), but organized with rigorous control, including the clockwork use of lateral tracking shots every few minutes leading the main character (Sandrine Bonnaire) on her trajectory.

Drugstore Cowboy (Gus Van Sant, 1989), and GoodFellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990). Two from the other side of legality, immersing us in the hows of the lifestyle. In one, the rites are close to Buddhist, the other is more extravagantly Catholic.

The Road Warrior (George Miller, 1981). How does a boomerang work, anyway? The movie seems to embody the principle.

Movie Diary 11/14/2022

Vengeance (B.J. Novak, 2022). It is officially 2022 catch-up time. Whatever you think about this movie, the fact that a sitcom actor took a stab at something big (Novak writes, directs and stars) while also making a very funny film is worth kudo’ing. It’s certainly the greatest example yet of blending Chekhov’s gun with Whataburger. Oh, and Novak makes Ashton Kutcher in serious contention for Best Supporting Actor lists. There is something here.

Flux Gourmet (Peter Strickland, 2022). It’s not always clear where Strickland falls on the line between satirizing the pretentious art world and embodying it, but this one is consistently engaging. The cast is so odd and so into Strickland’s vibe, you wish he would make a movie with them every couple of years: Fatma Mohamed as the leader of a culinary/performance troupe, Nadine Labed and Asa Butterfield as her collaborators, Gwendoline Christie as the hifalutin’ chief of the institute where the group has a residency (if you’ve ever met one of these people, you know how precisely Christie has this down), Makis Papadimitrou as a flatulent (literally, not figuratively) writer, Richard Bremmer as a pompous doctor. Gawd, what a group.

Causeway (Lila Neugebauer, 2022). Earnestness carries the day in this small-scaled piece about an Afghanistan vet (Jennifer Lawrence) recovering from a head injury in hometown New Orleans. Intelligence, delicacy, and a strong central performance do not quite make a movie, even if you can kind of feel what New Orleans feels like at night.

Living (Oliver Hermanus, 2022). A remake of Ikiru. Bill Nighy plays the lead, and he is lovely, as you expect. Individual scenes are also lovely, with Kazuo Ishiguro’s screenplay scoring with a collection of touches. The question is, does this quite make a movie? I think mostly not.

The Friday 11/11/2022

Anthony Edwards: Miracle Mile

My piece for the Scarecrow blog this week, and etc.

Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu interview (from 2003).

Scarecrow Academy continues with our free online semester of “Science Fiction and the Director”: Saturday Nov. 12 at 2 pm Pacific Time we gather to talk about Steve De Jarnatt’s 1988 gem Miracle Mile. Rumor has it that some lucky Zoom attendees could win a poster from the film, courtesy of the filmmaker. Register here and take your chances.

We have a “Music and the Movies” repeat episode this week on the sounds of 70s neo-noir, music from Chinatown and Taxi Driver, plus some items that may surprise. Listen at the Voice of Vashon M&M page here.

Movie Diary 11/7/2022

Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982), The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980). Yes, it was Joe Turkel time in the Horton household. Scott’s film was for our Scarecrow Academy series of free online conversations on the subject of “Science Fiction and the Director,” and we had a nice confab about it last Saturday. (You can join us for our next one, on Steve DeJarnatt’s Miracle Mile, at 2 pm Pacific Time on 11/12; see link here.) Kubrick’s film remains mighty, and will be a classroom topic this week.